BOSTON Even before the Indiana Pacers learned they would be without Danny Granger for a while, Paul George had his mind made up that he would be "the next big thing" this season.
But the pressure to perform that George was putting on himself coupled with Granger's absence, threw the 6-foot-8 wing in a bit of a funk to start the season.
"Early on, I was trying to force it so much to where now it's coming to me, playing through the team and just building habits preparing for games," George told CSNNE.com. "So now I'm just letting the game come to me which is different from the beginning of the year."
And that difference has been huge for both George and the Pacers who come into tonight's game against the Boston Celtics having won eight of their last 10 games.
"The last month or so, he's playing at an all-star level," said Indiana coach Frank Vogel. "All year he has been one of the best defensive wings in the NBA, and on the offensive end he has really picked up his assertiveness and shot-making."
George's success stems from his versatility that poses matchup problems on a nightly basis.
With his size and length, most shooting guards are too small to guard him while small forwards don't have his level of athleticism or ball-handling skills.
Add it all up and it's clear to see why the absence of Granger hasn't been nearly as painful as the loss of a leading scorer would be to a lot of teams.
"He opens up the floor a lot and gives us a lot of different looks that we can do," said Pacers guard George Hill. "He's something like Danny Granger, but a lot more athletic. So when we do that, it gives us a great opportunity to spread the floor and do multiple things."
Earlier this season, George was named the Eastern Conference player of the week of Dec. 10-16. During that span, the Pacers were 3-0 while George averaged 23.3 points, 7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.3 blocks in addition to connecting on 47.4 percent of his 3s during that span.
Every breakout season tends to have a turning point of some sort.
For George, that would have been Indiana's loss at Golden State on Dec. 1 when he was scoreless while missing all seven of his shots from the field.
After that, George made it up in his mind that whatever he had been doing on the day of games to prepare, had to be changed.
So for their next game against Chicago, George lifted weights the day of the game in addition to getting up 500 shots before hand.
Indiana won 86-80 and George had a then-season high 34 points. That was followed by a 22-point, 8-rebound game which was followed by a 22-point, 6-rebound, 6-assist night.
George said he rarely lifted on game days and didn't take anything close to 500 shots leading up to tip-off.
"I had this thought in my mind that lifting on game days would make me tired or something," George said. "But I tried it out and I actually felt I was ready; my body just felt great. It wasn't a strain on my body at all."
And as far as the 500 shots, George said, "I never shot 500 shots. I thought that would have gotten me tired as well, shooting 500 shots before a game. But my body just felt relaxed. and when I got on the court, it felt I took those shots so many times that if I shot that shot, it was going to go in."
Having had success at both ends of the floor this season has only fueled George's confidence.
"That's how the all-star's make their mark; being confident and being a floor leader on the floor," George said. "That comes with the territory. You have to make the plays, make the baskets. if you're not ready to make the baskets, you really don't have the confidence to even be on the floor. Confidence goes with everything when you want to be the guy."
And there's little doubt that George believes he is indeed capable of being a go-to player.
But he respects what Granger has done for the franchise, and knows that things will change once Granger, an all-star, returns to the lineup.
"It's in the back of my mind," George admitted. "He's an all-star player and it's really ... I have to keep the mindset the same but know that it's another all-star back in our lineup. I think we'll be able to play great together."
George added, "I think we'll be able to coincide. I got the confidence now to make plays and I think it'll help Danny out. You don't want to help off Danny because he can shoot the ball so well. If my shot attempts and my scoring aren't up, my assists will be up."
And that will bring him even closer to being a first-time all-star at next month's All-Star game in Houston.
George isn't quite ready to announce himself as being on that level just yet.
"Be honest, I only played one good month," he said. "So I still got some time. I think if I continue on this path, I'm playing at an all-star level."